Radical Democracy & the Internet Ch 12

Chapter 12: Internet Piracy as Radical Democracy Mark Poster

Compares the music and film industries attempt to control peer-to-peer file sharing to Soviet control of information. The Soviets struggled to control the reproducing and disseminating capacities of machines in order to keep control at the centre and maintain culture as it was at the beginning of socialist society. The losing of that battle contributed to the collapse of the Soviet state. Poster argues that with the fialure of the Digital Millenium Copywrite Act and the subsequent court action against individuals and service providers we are seeing the same thing – the Corporate Entertainment State is on the brink of collapse. The rear-guard action it is fighting involves the claim that innovative information and communication technology (P2P networks) should be restrained/curtailed in the interesting of protecting the property rights of the few and maintaining the status quo of rich pickings for the corporations and their shareholders – though couched in an argument for creativity and the protection of artists’ rights. Poster argues that those technological innovations will lead to greater creativity and more artistic activity as the printing press led to more writing and more reading by a wider and more empowered public.

1. new technologies lead to disruptions to old ways of doing things – though what emerges as this unfolds is unpredictable

2. digitisation leads to BOTH more control by the state and corporations over information and communication AND empowers people to create, reproduce and distribute information in ways that gives them more freedom of control over cultural objects.

> It seems that way Mark, but is it not simply that the perception of freedom is as manufactured as was/is the freedom to consume which has been the backbone to capitalist expansion over the past 150 years? Don’t we just feel more empowered but in fact that power is within pre-detirmined parameters – parameters not of our choosing?

He also uses the arguments initially used by Lessig over the ways that digitisation has changed the market by making the notion of scarcity redundant – digital artifacts are not subject to the laws of scarcity in the ways that anaologue artifacts are. And he combines it with the blurring of the boundaries between producer and consumer offered most forcefully by Bruns’ idea of ‘produsage’.

> Lessig’s argument is strong though he often seems to under-emphasise the notion that the network itself is a cultural artifact that is someone’s private property (and that someone is constantly trying to reclaim the rights to that property). Zittrain is an ally here arguing for the need to force governments and corporations to resist an encroachment of the commons.

Here’s a section on the Commons from ‘The Corporation’:

The question is whether, with a political system (liberalism) shoring up an economic system (capitalism) in which are enshrined principles of deregulation, privatization and free trade, we are really deluding ourselves in thinking that the digital commons hasn’t already been enclosed.

3 arguments against the use of the notion that P2P is crippling artists’ royalties gained through copyright:

1. It is not clear why artists should recieve compensation for the reproduction of their work. Performances, yes – but reproductions?

2.P2P does not involve the sale of commodities and is not therefore not applicable to copywrite law – their is no material substance as in a book and does not enter into a market of scarcity

3. The creation of art is always about sharing and incurring debts to others – the creative, innovative process is a collective process. See Sawyers Group Genius for examples of this.

He then goes on to outline the nature of P2P networks and what they can and do do and argues that they are developing a new form of public space where the dominant system of cultural exchange is ‘sharing’. This allows him to argue that such spaces and systems could afford new possibilities for radical democracy.

His conclusion:

Digital cultural objects enable the constitution of subjects in broader and more heterogenous forms than modern culture with its fixed objects and delimited identities. The new subjects might be capable of participating in radical democracy understood as the substantial empowerment of the population. At stake in the evolution of file sharing and other features of networked computing is a new culture of mobile and fluid selves, one less beholden to the constraints of modern and even postmodern subject positions.

Hasn’t convinced me that his argument thus far could lead to such a conclusion – those arguments are probably contained in his book,
Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines.